(1) Beyond the Course: The Learning Flow – a new framework for the social learning era

rafting-215691_640Learning is a process not an event. Learning is a journey not a destination.

We’ve heard all this for years, and yet the facts remain the same – the way that we help people learn revolves around events in the form of (a defined package of content) aka courses, where the focus still is firmly on the destination – the completion of the course – as a measure of success.

But in the age of Facebook and Twitter, and now Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) like Yammer and Jive (where at the heart lies an activity stream that is used for a continuous stream of knowledge exchange) – there is a place for a new learning framework; one that lies between the instructionally designed course and the unstructured knowledge sharing of teams, groups and communities. We call this a Learning Flow.

A Learning Flow is a continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities – accessible from the web and mobile devices

Let’s look at each of the elements of that sentence, that describe a Learning Flow

  • continuous – ongoing (ie no end date)
  • steady – daily (or probably more likely, weekdaily)
  • micro-learning – short – ie taking no longer than 15-20 minutes to undertake
  • activities – that involve reading (watching or listening to) something and doing something
  • social – that invite and encourage active participation and contribution
  • stream  –  that are organised and structured in the Flow in weekly themes
  • accessible from web and mobile devices – to ensure that  learning can take place anywhere and at anytime

For  individual users being present in a Learning Flow means

  • having some help to navigate the turbulent waters of a fast flowing stream of (new) knowledge
  • retaining control over how and when they get involved, and how they fit it into their daily workload – autonomy is a key element of participation.

Learning Flows are suitable for:

  • Enterprise use – to provide ongoing updating of teams or groups
  • Educational use – to provide an extra dimension to academic subjects – probably alongside a formal curriculum
  • Professional use  - for generic topics of interest in areas like Marketing, Leadership, L&D, etc, where it is vital to keep up with new knowledge and practices.

If you’re interested in experiencing a Learning Flow, we’ve already got a couple of Learning Flows underway for L&D professionals, for example, our Daily Learning News Flow on Twitter or Facebook.

If you’re interested in offering Learning Flows in your own organisation, the beauty is that they require no special learning platforms to set up and deliver. You can use any platform where there is an activity stream, e.g. a  platform like Twitter or FB or an ESN like Yammer or Jive.  If you want to find out more, an eBook will be available shortly where we provide advice on  Learning Flow scaffolding and preparation, micro-learning activity design, managing and evaluating a Flow.

However, in a couple of further blog posts on this topic I take a look at the User Experience, the different types of Learning Flow, and the role of the Guide in a Learning Flow.

Is it time for performance audits?

e-mail-69907_640There’s a lot of talk about the role of L&D in performance support – which has mainly focused on moving content creation efforts from courses to resources.

But dealing with performance improvement is more than creating a lot of job aids. Sometimes, a performance problem can be solved by changing ineffective work practices rather than by unnecessary training or adding job aids (as I showed in Case Study 2).

In a blog post in 2011, Time for a workflow audit, Seth Godin recommended:

“Go find a geek. Someone who understands gmail, Outlook, Excel and other basic tools. Pay her to sit next to you for an hour and watch you work. Then say, “tell me five ways I can save an hour a day.” Whatever you need to pay for this service, it will pay for itself in a week.”

As the role of L&D moves towards a focus on performance support and improvement, rather than just reacting to performance problems, there is also a need for pro-actively supporting individuals and teams by undertaking performance audits. Helping to improve some of the little things in their workflow, can have a huge productivity impact.

(This blog post is a re-worked version of one I wrote in 2011)

Social Learning: An explanation using Twitter

In preparation for a short, Twitter event (#t4sl) I am involved in this afternoon, I’ve updated my (2010) presentation: Social Learning: An explanation using Twitter. 

Here’s a Storify of our live chat. 

My 20 years on the Web (1994-2014)

woman-163426_640People often ask me how did you get into social media?  My answer, is to tell them that I didn’t get into social media, social media got into me!  Here’s my journey through the last 20 years of the Web, and how it has influenced my thinking about workplace learning.

I was introduced to the Web in the early 1990s (when I was working as a Senior Lecturer in a university in London) by my husband who had attended the very first World Wide Web conference at CERN in Geneva in 1994. I could immediately see its potential for education, so I taught myself to use HTML to write webpages and I developed a series of free online World Wide Web Workshops (WWWW)  to share what I had learnt. (This was the beginnings of my whole practice of sharing my work with others)

I also set up the first online course in my university to put into practice my thoughts about offering education online.  Although I was brimming full of ideas of what could be done, I was  amazed that others couldn’t see the huge impact  that the Web would have on our lives, and I remember how aghast I was when my then Head of Department  said the Web was “all a load of hype”.  It was a salutary lesson that not everyone “gets it” straightaway, and something I have had to remind myself about many times since then!

In 1997, as the Web became more and more popular in the corporate sector, I decided to leave education to work in the Internet consultancy business that my husband had set up a few years earlier, where I would focus on helping corporates with the new world of online learning.  I was very lucky that my first contract was based in the South of France, where I worked for the Training & Documentation department of a multinational telecommunications company.  They were also inspired by the power and reach of the Web, so I wrote a business proposal to build an Online Learning Centre for the Global Help Desk, and then single-handedly specified the hardware and software requirements, installed the server, set up a very early Learning Management System, and began creating initial content for the site –  activities, by the way, which it now seems to take an army of people to undertake!

By 2000 I was back in the UK, and taking on another contract this time with Cisco Systems.  They had set up an E-Learning Team in London to implement e-learning in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) region.  Cisco was already producing some fabulous stuff for its own internal use, but what really made an impact on me, was the definition of e-learning that Cisco used.

“E-learning is information, instruction, communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing.”

This made absolute sense to me as I had by now realised, learning in the workplace, is much, much more than just creating and delivering instruction.  However, e-instruction is exactly where many businesses have focused their attention in e-learning – mainly in an attempt to save the costs of running face-to-face events.  So, when Jay Cross, who I had known since around 2001, asked me to take a look at the manuscript of his new book, “Informal Learning” and provide him with my thoughts and comments I was delighted to do so.  At last, I thought, organisations would now begin to realise that there was more to workplace learning than just taking courses!

But it is clear that, over ten years later, there are still many people who don’t “get it”. There are still many who want to try and force-fit (or “blend”) informal learning into some organised formal learning structure, and manage it in their LMS! They just don’t see (or want to see) the importance of autonomous, self-organised (informal) learning, nor how they can support and encourage it, rather than manage and control it.

But in the meantime, we have seem the emergence of a whole new range of social media tools, which have impacted all the different parts of our lives – personal, professional and organisational. These tools allow us to co-create content, communicate, collaborate and share information in many new ways, and they  also provide the means for us all, to find out, discover and learn – by connecting with others.

Of course social business is still in its infancy; much of it is happening at the grass-roots level and happening in a bottom-up way – where some organisations are not even aware of it!  And, inevitably, there are still many people who “don’t get it”.  Those who haven’t personally experienced the power of the Social Web still call it “hype” or “a fad”, and some organisations are still desperately trying to control it all, by (once again) attempting to force-fit it into their traditional, formal structures and processes – usually unsuccessfully when it involves users who have seen the power that social media brings to them as individuals.

Fortunately, however, I have been lucky to work with a number of organisations – large and small -  who do “get it”, who don’t see the social era as a threat but as a huge opportunity for them to thrive as a social business, and for them to help their people to work and learn smarter in this new age of collaboration and knowledge sharing. In the latest version of my Social Learning Handbook I offer lots of advice and suggestions how to do so, that are not just about creating and designing learning for people but to help them connect and learn from one another as a part of their daily working lives.

Finally, when I am asked to provide advice to those who want to help their own organisation move forward into the Networked Era, I say that they need to be fully immersed in the Social Web. It’s no good standing on the periphery, telling others to be social, they need to be able to demonstrate what it means to them to be a networked, connected individual. If they can’t show the value of being social for themselves, why would others take any notice? They need to Walk the Social Talk.

Case Study No 3: a course doesn’t solve every problem:

gear-67139_640Following Monday’s post, How to break out of the “course is the solution to every problem” mindset: make courses the exception rather than the rule, this is the third of three case studies that shows how courses are not the solution to every learning or performance problem. These case studies have been adapted from posts that first appeared on my blog in 2010.

A line manager was concerned that the company’s traditional induction (onboarding) workshop took place so irregularly that a new employee was often in post for a good few weeks if not months before s/he attended it.  The situation had now come to a head as one of his new promising employees had resigned before attending it, and had stated this was due to the obvious lack of interest of the company in integrating her into it.

The line manager turned to the L&D department for help. Their traditional response might well have been to create an online induction course which would be available to all employees as soon as they joined the company, but instead the L&D Director suggested that Tim, one of his team members, should meet with the line manager and some recent new hires to find out more about the issues.

During that meeting, in addition to the delay in getting a place on the induction (onboarding) workshop, it also transpired that the content of the workshop was very boring, being simply presentation after presentation on the history, vision and mission of the organisation. It was clear that they would not be interested in spending their time working through that same content online. What they had really wanted to know it in the early days of joining the company, was how to deal with practical issues like where you got your company laptop and mobile phone, and how you used your canteen card to purchase lunch and refreshments. These things the new hires had to find out for themselves, and although their colleagues were willing to help out and answer their questions, they were unable to spend too much time with them because of their own workload. The line manager also asked why induction couldn’t actually start BEFORE the new hires stepped through the door on the first day.

So Tim  suggested setting up a group on the company’s Yammer (enterprise social network) which new hires could join immediately their job position had been confirmed, where they could find information about the company as well as where they could ask questions and post their comments and views.

Those in the meeting thought this would be a good idea, so Tim asked them if they would be prepared to help with the project in terms of populating it with some early content, as well as helping to answer the questions of other new hires.  He explained that as more and more people joined the group over time, then their participation would be reduced.

Tim fed back the idea to the L&D and HR Directors, who said they would be very interested to see how this worked out, and Tim said he would be happy to act as a New Hire community manager in the first instance until someone else could take over the role.  So a Yammer New Hire group was set up and Tim got to work with others to make it a useful group space.

After a couple of months in operation, Tim ran an an informal survey to get some feedback. The new hires all felt that this was a very welcoming approach and that as they had established relationships with colleagues before they had arrived, it was very easy to fit in to the company. They also knew where to go to get everything they needed in the first few days.  It was therefore decided to continue the New Hire group indefinitely.  A few months later the HR Director was able to report an increase in retention rates, which made him and the senior managers very happy.

Key takeaways

  • Tim was able to find a solution that suited both managers and new hires
  • Tim supported the solution as it was put into practice.
  • Success was initially measured on the “feel good factor”, but was eventually measured in performance terms (retention rates)

More Case Studies

  1. Case Study 1
  2. Case Study 2

Case Study 2 – How a training course is not the solution to every problem

annFollowing Monday’s post, How to break out of the “course is the solution to every problem” mindset: make courses the exception rather than the rule, this is the second of three case studies that shows how courses are not the solution to every learning or performance problem. These case studies have been adapted from posts that first appeared on my blog in 2010.

A senior manager of an organisation approached the L&D department because his new PA, Ann, was struggling with producing the documentation for the Strategy Committee.  He thought she needed some further training.

L&D’s response might once have been to look at the schedule of a training provider and tell Ann she could have a place on the next 3-day Word course in a few weeks time, but instead the L&D Director asked Helen, one of his team members, to pay Ann a a visit.

Ann was a hard-working and efficient PA with considerable experience in using Word, the word processing software.  However, she admitted she was struggling with the “track changes” functionality.

Helen asked Ann what she was trying to achieve, and Ann explained that she had to send out papers to the members of the Strategy Committee to create a number of strategy documents.  She emailed them a first draft, then each member of the Strategy Committee was asked to make amendments and additions on the document (using track changes) and send the amended document back to her.  She then had to put all the amendments onto one master document for final review at the Strategy meeting.  It was taking her ages to do this, and her boss was getting quite alarmed at how much time she was spending on it.  She asked if she was “missing” something in the track changes function; and wondered if some further training might help.

Helen explained that it wasn’t a fault of the “track changes” functionality nor her lack of training, but rather that the process itself was causing the problems.  She suggested it would be a much better idea just to create one master document that all the members of the Strategy Committee could have access to and amend themselves.  Ann sighed with relief, as she realised this would solve all her problems in one go.

Helen then discussed the different software options available; their pros and cons and ease of use, and before finally agreeing on the use of Google Docs as the preferred solution, they ran the idea past Ann’s boss.  He was delighted with the suggestion and immediately could see a number of possibilities for using it for other work. With respect to the strategic documents they were creating, he said he could start them off himself by entering some notes, then Ann could take over and work them up into something more professional.  Then they would invite the members of the Strategy Committee to make their amendments directly on the document.

Helen then showed both Ann and her boss how to set up a Google Docs account, how to create a document and share it with others.   Once the first document was ready for the Committee, Ann sent out instructions on how to access the document as well as edit it. Helen remained on call to help with and questions they might have.

The use of Google Docs proved to be very successful, and freed up Ann to work on some other more interesting and exciting projects. Ann’s boss was very appreciative of Helen’s work  and asked her to spend more time in his department to try and improve the productivity of all the members of his team.  He also recommended to the Senior IT Director that they use Google Apps throughout the company, and this is likely to take place very shortly.

Key take-aways

  • Understanding the root cause of the problem – not the symptoms – helped to identify the solution
  • A solution might sometimes be best achieved by changing work practices rather than training on existing, flawed ones.
  • The learning professional can support those adapting to new working practices; not just tell them what to do.

More Case Studies

A course is not the solution to every problem: Case Study 1

team-115887_640Following yesterday’s post, How to break out of the “course is the solution to every problem” mindset: make courses the exception rather than the rule, this is the first of three case studies that shows how courses are not the solution to every learning or performance problem. These three case studies have been adapted from posts that first appeared on my blog in 2010.

The Sales Manager of a consumer electronics company was concerned about the length of time it was taking to create and deliver the online training courses for new products and new product updates.  This was having a knock-on effect that meant that his sales people were not able to talk intelligently about these new products to their customers which often led to poor customer satisfaction results and also weak sales in the early days of a product launch. He approached the L&D department for help.

The traditional response to such a problem would have previously been that they could reduce the time taken to create and deliver the online courses by a number of weeks, by bringing the development work back in house and hiring a couple of instructional designers, and then purchasing the authoring software as well as all the multimedia production and editing kit that was necessary to create the course themselves. However, instead he suggested that Jenny, one of his team, convene a meeting of product managers and sales people to discuss the problem.

Jenny found out that they normally worked in complete isolation and very rarely had any communication with one another.  She also found out product training took place after launch because that was just the way they had always done things. She asked the product managers if they would be happy for the sales team to find out more about the products before the launch date and answer questions on them, and they said they would be delighted.   She made the suggestion that the product managers might like to “work out loud” on their Yammer (enterprise social networking platform) – this would involve writing regular posts about the new products, and would keep the sales team up to date with what was happening. Such updates might describe new functionality and even show images and mockups they had built,  and of course answer any questions the sales team had about the products. This was agreed as a way forward and a pilot was set up on a couple of new products to try it out.

The result: at product launch, the sales team were well prepared to start talking to their customers about the new product.  Sales in the early weeks of new product increased and customer satisfaction scores shot up too.   The pilot was deemed a success, and the project was continued.  A further advantage was that it brought the product development team and the sales team closer together and from then on they held away days to discuss new innovations and product design.

Key takeaways

  • Jenny was the catalyst in helping the teams understand how they could help each other
  • She didn’t organise the solution for them, rather helped them identify one that suited them all, and then supported them as they put it into practice.
  • Success was measured in performance terms (improved customer sats, increased sales) not learning terms (course completions, etc).

More Case Studies

How to break out of the “course is the solution to every problem” mindset: make courses the exception rather than the rule

office-195960_640Many people working in L&D do now recognize that workplace learning is more than courses delivered through a learning management system.

They certainly are beginning to realise that most training courses (either face-to-face or online) are endured rather than enjoyed by their people, and that there is a lot of evidence that shows that they are often ineffective.

Many in L&D do want to break out of the “course is the solution to every problem” mentality,  but don’t know how to get started. They don’t know how to get their own L&D team members thinking differently about how to support the business in more appropriate ways, nor how to stop line managers asking for a course whenever they encounter a performance problem.

I often advise L&D groups that one way to break out of old thinking is to have a policy where courses become the exception rather than the rule.

In other words, a strong case has to be made for a course to be created – one that documents all the other relevant options that have been explored and the reasons why they are not deemed appropriate. The case then needs to be scrutinized by others in the team to spot any flaws in the argument. The activity of building and defending the case should be tiresome enough to put off only those who are clearly convinced that a course is the only possible solution (or part of the possible solution).

Taking this step however requires (at least) two new skills of the workplace learning professional.

  1. the ability to conduct a proper Performance Analysis together with the manager in question to help to identifying the core problem(s) and a range of possible solutions. [Note: This is very different to carrying out a Training Needs Analysis – since a TNA already assumes training is the solution.]
  2. a good understanding of a wide range of potential approaches to addressing performance problems together with their costs and benefits, pros and cons. Much of this will only happen once team members personally experience these new approaches themselves, and are able to “walk the talk” and show how their own practices have changed.

Of course it does also require line managers to understand that the workplace learning landscape has changed too, but as more and more realise that courses are often far from an ideal solution, then they will probably be more than willing to consider other approaches.

But what about the diehards who think they can just “order a course” as they have always done? L&D will need to explain that it is now policy and practice to carry out a performance analysis, and if a manager refuses to participate and insists on a course, then they will need to take a firm stand, and require the manager to write his/her own case for approval.

Once courses are the exception rather than the rule, they are more likely to be valued a lot more in the business.


  1. Case Study 1
  2. Case Study 2
  3. Case Study 3

The Best Blog Posts of January 2014

calendar-151591_640Here is my personal pick of the best blog posts in January 2014. (For all the posts I tweeted and bookmarked in January, see my 2014 Reading List.)


January started off with the usual round of predictions for 2014 and one of the recurring predictions was the increase in use of wearable technology. However, a Fast Company post pointed out, in Can Performance Be Quantified? Wearable Tech In The Office (5 January)  that ..

“The age of the quantified self is here. Now business is buying in.”

Stowe Boyd (GigaOm, 14 January) took it one stage further, and talked about the emergence of Bring Your Own Wearable: 

“The additional cost of wearables and the complexities in their use make it harder for companies to ask their employees to switch to company gear … But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be happy to gain whatever productivity increase comes from their use.”

As BYOD morphs into BYOW, another article in ReadWrite (20 January) explains that management are also starting to adapt to a world where you “bring your own everything” : Bring your own social networks; Bring your own contact manager; Bring your own methodology, Bring your own productivity tools and apps.


The Guardian (22 January) reported how Princeton Researchers have, by comparing Facebook’s growth curve to that of an infectious disease, predicted that it will lose 80% of users by 2017. Other commentators have responded to this, including Lance Ulanoff exclaiming No, Facebook is Not an Infectious Disease (Mashable, 23 January).  But there was an interesting twist on the debate, as reported in Debunking Princeton: Facebook avenges its takedown with playful data science (Wired, 24 January)

“Facebook data scientists have turned the methodology used to predict the downfall of the social network in a paper by researchers at Princeton University against the Ivy League institution to describe how its days may also be numbered.”


Another intriguing study about the effect of coffee on learning was reported by Scientific American, Should you drink coffee be!fore or after a learning task? (14 January):

“Popular wisdom holds that caffeine enhances learning, alertness and retention, leading millions to consume coffee or caffeinated drinks before a challenging learning task such as attending a business strategy meeting or a demanding scientific presentation. However a new study in the journal Nature Neuroscience conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins hints that when it comes to long-term memory and caffeine, timing may be everything; caffeine may enhance consolidation of memories only if it is consumed after a learning or memory challenge.”


There were lots more great posts in January – here are a few more with some key quotes I’ve picked out.

Training Hubris by Marc Rosenberg (Learning Solutions Magazine,  14 January)

“Training activity that doesn’t produce business value is primarily wasted.

If You’re Not Helping People Develop, You’re Not Management Material by Monique Valcour  (HBR, 23 January)

“Skilled managers have never been more critical to the success of firms than they are today.  Not because employees can’t function without direction, but because managers play a vital role in talent management. Gone are the comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee contract.  In their place, the manager-employee dyad is the new building block of learning and development in firms.”

On doing the work by Seth Godin (24 January)

“Almost eight thousand people have taken my Skillshare course so far, and the ones that got the most out of it all had two things in common: They did the project worksheets and they actively contributed to the online discussions. Learning is not watching a video, learning is taking action and seeing what happens.”

The Career-Boosting Benefits of Lifelong Learning in Mashable (25 January)

” educational opportunities should be social, whether that means taking place in a classroom or via online chats. Even something as simple as following the author of a book you like and engaging with them on Twitter forces you to start communicating with and learning from a larger community.”


Clark Quinn believes that it is time for L&D to change. In Starting Trouble (28 January) he writes.

“The gist is that there are a number of changes L&D is not accommodating: changes in how business should be run, changes in understanding how we think and perform, and even our understanding of learning has advanced (at least beyond the point that most of our corporate approaches seem to recognize).  Most L&D really seems stuck in the industrial age, and yet we’re in the information age.”

Don’t think you have the authority of power to make changes? Then Ron Ashkenas proffers some advice, in You Don’t Have To Be The CEO To Make A Difference (Forbes, 29 January)

“If you want to be part of a successful organization, you need to be part of the dialogue — to share your views, influence others, and make a difference. If you don’t feel that you can take the initiative to do that, then either think about what gets in your way or what you can do differently. If conditions don’t allow you to speak up and exert your influence, go somewhere else. But waiting for senior leaders or the CEO to make things better is probably not going to be a very effective strategy.”

But, I’ll give the last word to Helen Blunden on the subject of change. In How Do We Enforce Independence in Workplace Learning? (27 January), she writes.

“So the challenge for me – and for other corporate learning teams is this… it’s time for us to create some density from within the organisation to create the change that is required … Those who will find this change disconcerting or who need to hide within organisational hierarchical structures will leave.  The others will, by nature, express independence, create networks and once again re-engage with their work.”

[If you want to share my Top January Picks, please do ensure you provide full attribution to this blog post.]

Keeping up to date with new trends, technologies and tools

internet-123077_640After tweeting yesterday’s post, The (new) role of the Workplace Learning Advisor, I was asked the question, “How do you keep up to date with new trends, technologies and tools?”.

And my (tweeted) response was


I first read about the concept of web residents and web visitors in a First Monday article back in 2011, Visitors and Resident: A new typology for online engagement - which proposed “a continuum of ‘Visitors’ and ‘Residents’ as a replacement for Prensky’s much?criticised Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants” The authors, David White and Alison Cornu, explain the difference as follows

Web visitors

“We propose that Visitors understand the Web as akin to an untidy garden tool shed. They have defined a goal or task and go into the shed to select an appropriate tool which they use to attain their goal. Task over, the tool is returned to the shed.”

Web residents 

“Residents, on the other hand, see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work. A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online where the distinction between online and off–line is increasingly blurred.”

So, for me, being a Web resident is the ONLY way to keep up to date – by being immersed in what’s happening there, by reading about it and talking about it with connections from around the world in my professional network (aka PLN).

Here is where I find out about all the new (frequently free or low cost) tools that NEVER appear on exhibition stands,  as well as hear about the amazing (new) work of colleagues around the work that RARELY gets air-time at conferences.

Being a resident of the Social Web and keeping up to date is an integral part of my work.  I have already shared how I use my own tools  as part of my daily PKM routine, which is now second nature time. But essentially, the invaluable knowledge and experience that is freely and willingly shared on the Social Web helps me to do my own job well. In fact I could no longer do it effectively without being a resident of the Social Web.